Science & Technology

Seattle startup RareCyte raises $24M to advance new high-speed cell imaging platform

Different immune cells imaged on a section of tonsil by the RareCyte Orion platform. Distinct cell types are in green, red and white, cell nuclei are in blue. (RareCyte Image)

Seattle-based startup RareCyte announced $24 million in new funding on Thursday to advance its applications for the analysis of cells.

RareCyte sells imaging-based liquid and tissue biopsy analysis platforms that detect and analyze cells.

The company’s products are primarily aimed at clinical and translational researchers in academia and biopharma companies. The company markets kits for preparing samples from blood or tissues and instruments to optically measure cells. Their products aim for automation and high-volume of sampling.

The new funding will fuel the commercialization and development of its new Orion cell imaging and analysis platform, launched last year, and enable expansion of its other products into global markets.

The Orion instrument images a pathology slide at high speed, detecting various molecular markers on cells labeled with fluorescent probes. The instrument has 21 channels for detection, each able to pick up a different fluorescent channel, enabling detecting of a high number of markers simultaneously.

The Orion system can yield a lot of information about a biological sample in a short time.

“The new Orion spatial biology platform coupled with the existing RareCyte portfolio of precision biology solutions will provide important new capabilities for researchers and clinicians to advance critical application areas such as immuno-oncology,” the intersection of immunology and cancer research, said Robert Weisskoff in a statement. Weisskoff is a parter at F-Prime Capital, a backer of the new funding, and has joined the company’s board of directors.

Knowing what immune molecules are present on cells and in what proportion can, for instance, help researchers understand how the body is reacting to a tumor. The platform could also help advance the discovery of molecules that predict how a disease such as cancer will progress.

RareCyte CEO Joe Victor. (5AM Ventures Photo)

“In the world of precision medicine, there is a vast unmet need for researchers and clinicians to probe their precious samples for high-multiplex information, but the available technologies can take more than a week to process one sample,” said CEO Joe Victor in a statement announcing the new platform last year, “We believe that Orion with 21 channel whole-slide single scan capability in just a few hours will have significant impact in this critical area.”

RareCyte is one of several companies expanding into the “spatial biology” arena, as advances in optics, molecular techniques and software analysis propel the field forward. Other companies in the area include Seattle-based NanoString Technologies, which markets its GeoMx Digital Spatial profiler system, which can analyze numerous molecules in a sample to assess the activity of proteins or DNA in a cell.

RareCyte also makes several products for researchers to detect and analyze circulating tumor cells — cancer cells circulating in the blood. Analyzing such cells can provide information on how a tumor is developing, though long-standing efforts in the field to develop diagnostics based on such cells are still ongoing.

RareCyte was spun out of Applied Precision in 2011, shortly after General Electric acquired the Seattle-area company, which specializes in advanced high-resolution and super-resolution imaging platforms for biological samples. Total investment in the company tops $100 million, including a $30 million round in 2017 and $22 million in 2019.

In addition to F-Prime Capital, other new investors include Logos Capital, Agilent Technologies and Arboretum Ventures, which led the financing round. Existing investors involved in the new financing include HealthQuest Capital, 5AM Ventures, and RareCyte founder Ron Seubert, who was CEO until Victor took over in 2017.

RareCyte operates out of a 22,000-square-foot facility in downtown Seattle.



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